Posted on: 4 September 2014
Mobile devices: at work and at play
Is there a distinction between “work” technology and personal technology? The distinction is increasingly blurred as technological devices become more mobile, functional and popular. Today’s employees often use the same smart phone for both business and personal use, and a notebook computer can easily be used at the office, on the road or at home.
When employees carry a device everywhere they go, it’s easy for it to move from being a “work-only” device to a helpful item that can be used at any time of day – in almost any location. Moreover, the act of customizing a device, entering contacts, downloading apps, and using it on a daily basis can create a very personal attachment between the user and the product. This attachment impacts the use of the device, and should therefore influence its design.
Mobile user experience implications
The mobile space is competitive, and a one-size-fits-all application or interface can quickly be rejected if a more flexible (or more tailored) alternative can be found. Mobile user interface or application design starts with understanding the variety of potential usage scenarios. A mobile device is largely used by only one user who will want to be able to personalize the tool to fit his or her lifestyle.
Developers who understand the specific actions or tasks that individuals will perform as they interact with the product – and the physical locations in which they do so – will have a leg up on those who see the device only in a workplace context. While a traditional PC is fixed on tabletop, a cell phone or a new tablet PC like the iPad can be used almost anywhere. In the span of a week, a mobile device could be used in a taxi, on a plane, on a sailboat and at the grocery store.
Of note was once a story in the news about a young woman whose father “walked” her down the aisle at her wedding from his hospital bed – through the use of an iPad. The bride’s Dad had suffered a heart attack, two days prior, and wanted to be part of the day so he was video-streamed from his room through the tablet while someone carried “him” down the aisle with his daughter. This kind of unforeseen scenario, along with the fact that a mobile device can be used both at work and at play, raises interesting design challenges.
Mobile users also expect convenience. Successful smart phones offer many ways to simplify and tailor the technology to match the user’s needs. When a device is used in a personal context, users often add background imagery, create custom layouts, and order their applications based on their personal preferences. The user’s desired functionality and usage goals may differ greatly from those imagined by the user’s employer, and the user may reject devices and applications that address only workplace needs.
Understanding the needs & expectations of your mobile user
To truly understand the personal and contextual use of a mobile device, designers must observe its users at work and at play. Ethnographic field research can uncover users’ behaviour and motives and reveal the reasons why – and how – they use the mobile device as well as mobile applications. Armed with this knowledge, you can better understand what behaviour makes customers buy, use and upgrade mobile products. The mobile space is competitive, and a one-size-fits-all application or interface can quickly be rejected if a more customized alternative can be found.
Through user personas and usage scenarios, you can form the necessary perspectives to create a compelling mobile user experience – one that satisfies both the work and personal goals of your mobile users.